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Hometown Hopes Turn Sour for Busch at Las Vegas

Accident Means Early Day for Interstate Batteries Team in Sam’s Town 300

Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch
After winning the pole for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race and leading both practice sessions for Saturday’s Sam’s Town 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kyle Busch was riding a wave of momentum as he looked to score his first win at his hometown track.

But a day that started with high hopes for the 22-year-old Las Vegas native ended on a sour note after a cut tire on his No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota sent Busch into the turn three wall on lap 102 of the Sam’s Town 300.

“I didn’t see anything. I didn’t feel anything that I ran over,” said Busch, who finished 31st in the 43-car field. “It’s just bad luck today with the Interstate Batteries car. It’s unfortunate for all these guys. We’ll just try to forget about today and have a better day tomorrow.”

The crash did indeed end what turned out to be a forgettable day, for earlier during Nationwide Series qualifying, Busch pushed hard in hopes of notching his first Nationwide Series pole of the season. After earning the third-quickest time on his first lap, Busch attempted a pole run on his second lap. He almost had it, until the Interstate Batteries machine snapped loose and spun between turns three and four.

A hard hit with the SAFER Barrier on the outside retaining wall was the result, and the primary car was lost.

Crew chief Jason Ratcliff had less than three hours to prepare the backup car for the race, and thanks to hard work by everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing, a new No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota was pushed to the starting grid while driver introductions were underway.

Despite officially starting third, going to the backup car forced Busch to drop to the tail end of the field where he took the green flag in 43rd. But after just two laps, the 2002 honors graduate of nearby Durango High School had moved up to 29th. Driving like a man possessed, Busch powered his way into the top-10 by lap 36 and took the lead for the first time on lap 65 when quick work by the Interstate Batteries team got him off pit road first.

After battling and losing the lead from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Tony Stewart on lap 83, Busch patiently sat in the second spot, awaiting another pit stop where Ratcliff could make an adjustment to loosen up the No. 18 machine and give Busch the proper handle to compete for the win.

“Everything was going well,” Busch said. “We were a little bit tight and we were going to free it up on the next stop in order to make a better charge there toward the end of the race. We just weren’t able to make it.”

With the cut tire and subsequent shot into the wall, Ratcliff and the rest of the Interstate Batteries team never got a chance to make those changes.

Despite the result, Busch remains second in the championship driver standings, as he wasn’t the only front runner to experience problems.

Stewart wound up crashing later in the race after contact with David Reutimann and finished 27th. But with Stewart and Busch having come into the Sam’s Town 300 first and second, respectively, in the point standings, they left that way too. Stewart is first with 472 points while Busch trails by 42 points.

NASCAR veteran Mark Martin won the Sam’s Town 300 to score his 48th career Nationwide Series victory and his third at Las Vegas. Greg Biffle finished second, while Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and David Stremme rounded out the top-five. IRL IndyCar Series champion and NASCAR rookie Dario Franchitti, Mike Wallace, former Champ Car driver Patrick Carpentier, Brad Coleman and David Ragan comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There was an event record 13 caution periods for 55 laps, with 17 drivers failing to finish the 202-lap race, which was extended two laps past its scheduled 200-lap distance due to a green/white/checkered finish.

The next event on the Nationwide Series schedule is the March 8 Nicorette 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The race starts at 2 p.m. EST with live, high-definition coverage provided by ESPN2 beginning with its pre-race show at 1:30 p.m. The race will also be broadcast live on SIRIUS Satellite Radio Channel 128.

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